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Even in the temperate Chesapeake, there was a need to provide artificial heat for much of the year. An early frost or a late cold snap might well mean that fires were needed for at least some part of three-quarters of the year. Philip Fithian, in noting such unseasonable weather recorded that on June 14th, 1774, he “Spent the evening very agreeably with Mrs Carter & Mr Stadley, we sat about a good Fire in the Dining-Room, and it seems as necessary & agreeable as in November or December.”(1) During the winter months, severe cold was a more serious problem. Fithian, in January of that same year observed that:

The Weather is as wintry here in every Respect as I have ever known it in New-Jersey--Mr Carter has a Cart & three pair of Oxen which every Day bring in four Loads of Wood, Sundays excepted, & yet these very severe Days we have none to spare; And indeed I do not wonder, for in the Great House, School House, Kitchen, &c. there are twenty Eight steady fires! & most of these are very Large!(2)

Even with fires burning, it was sometimes not enough to combat the cold. Landon Carter noted in his diary for 1770 that in April it was cold enough inside his house that the water froze in the wash basins. Ten years later, fellow Virginia, William Reynolds, noted in a January letter that it was so cold that the ink froze in his pen.(3)

Given the importance of providing heat in the home, it is not surprising that the equipage associated with this essential function also was an important part of household furnishings. Merchants' advertisements provided clear evidence that andirons and fire tools were a regular part of their stock-in-trade. Newspaper advertisements are sometimes straightforward, simply listing andirons and other equipment.(4) Other notices are somewhat more descriptive. The Alexandria firm of John Murray and Company included, “A few pair of elegant metal dogs, with shovels, tongs and brass fenders to suit.”(5)

Another feature of both advertisements and other types of documentation is the use of room designations as descriptive adjectives. While it is not clear from a 20th-century perspective exactly what is intended, clearly there was an understanding on the part of both merchant and patron of expectations conveyed by terms like “chamber” bellows or in orders like that of George Washington for “neat Bellows for dining Room.”(6) An order placed by the firm of Wallace, Davidson & Johnson also illustrates this practice. They wanted “2 pr of large very elegant Parlour Andirons . . .”(7) It seems likely that there were generally understood expectations about what types of objects were appropriate for different rooms within societally defined architectural hierarchies.


Andirons, used either to support wooden logs directly or as part of a system incorporating a basket or grate to hold the burning fuel, were an important, although not necessary, part of fireplace usage in eighteenth-century homes. Indeed, based upon the numbers which appear in inventories, it seems likely that even in Elite households, not every fireplace was fitted with andirons. It seems highly likely that andirons were moved around among bed chambers as needed. English diarist, James Woodforde, noted in his entry for January 15, 1795, that the combination of a bad attack of gout and weather that he described as “piercing, severe frost, with Wind & some Snow” caused him to have a fire in his bed chamber. A month later he noted again that severe weather caused him to have “a fire again in My bedchamber to night, tho' I had left it off some time. . . .”(8)

In Elite homes, the components of a well furnished fireplace were often also part of the decorative scheme of important rooms. Maryland merchants, Williams & Neth, advertised as part of a shipment of goods imported from London in 1782, “Elegant brass pillar firedogs. Polished steel ditto, with brass heads.”(9) Sometimes, andirons were probably intended to be en suite with other elements of fireplace equipment, sharing similar design elements and materials. Charles Carroll undoubtedly had such a group in mind when he ordered “One pair of best Andirons--Brass Tops, with a Shovell - a pair of Tongs and a neat brass pierced fender.”(10)

Matching andirons and tools were also part of a 1772 order in the Wallace, Davidson & Johnson order book which listed under ironware “1 pr genteel middle sized polished Iron hand Irons for a dineing Room with suitable Shovel & Tongs without any brass on either & strong.”(11)

Andirons appear in 100% of Rural Elite Inventories (REI) with the average number being 10.5 which should be interpreted as 5 or 6 pair. The median is 10 or 5 pair. Only 21.5% of REI exceed 6 pairs of andirons. When materials are cited, iron, either cast or wrought, accounts for over half of the named examples. Brass topped examples represent approximately one quarter of the andirons described by material and all brass examples are less than 10% of cited examples.

Andirons also occur in all five (100%) of the family inventories. Family averages and medians are both 10 or 5 pair of andirons. Only MASON97 includes any indication of materials, listing 5 pair of “cast” andirons which indicates iron and 1 pair of cast andirons with brass tops.

The number of pairs of andirons recommended for Gunston Hall, which exceeds the family averages and medians, is based upon the number of known fireplaces on the first and second floors of the house.


Andirons: 6-7 Pair
Origin: Britain, Chesapeake, or Philadelphia
Date: 1750-1780
Style: Determined by date, origin, and material.
Material: 1 pair brass topped; 5-6 pair iron.



Fire tools or fire irons, as they are referred to in some inventories, were the implements used to control and manipulate the fuel once a fire was burning. Consisting of various combinations of shovels, tongs, and pokers depending upon owner preference, these tools could be strictly utilitarian or quite decorative. For example in 1783, Annapolis merchants Williams & Neth noted that in addition to the brass and polished steel andirons referenced above, that they also had in their shipment from London, “fire shovels and tongs with brass heads.”(12) Earlier that same year, an Alexandria merchant advertised a shipment of goods arrived from France and Portugal which included lighting devices “plated with gold and silver” and an “Assortment of andirons, tongs and shovels, likewise plated.”(13) If this fireplace equipment was indeed plated with gold and silver it would have no doubt been grander than anything offered for sale by Chesapeake merchants either before or after. It does make the point, however, that such items often went beyond the strictly functional.

While firetools might be purchased together with andirons, as discussed above, merchants also imported fire tools as separate items. The Wallace, Davidson & Johnson Order Book for May of 1773 shows their purchase of 48 pairs of shovels and tongs ranging in price from 18 to 10 each.(14) Indeed, pairs of shovels and tongs seem to have been the most common fireplace equipage appearing in merchant accounts.(15)

The questions of sets of tools is partially illuminated by an entry in the Glassford Store accounts in Piscataway, Maryland. Included in a shipment in 1769 were “3 Setts Strong Tongs Shovell & poker” valued at 310 each and “3 Setts neat do [tongs, shovel, & poker]” costing 43 each. Noted below this entry is the direction “for the future if you dont want Pokers, say pairs of Tongs and Shovells and not sett.”(16) This statement strongly suggests that, at least from some merchants' point of view, a set consisted of all three pieces.

Some scholarship suggests that the presence of a poker in an inventory may well be an indication of the use of coal as a fuel and therefore implies a grate.(17) However, there seems, at the present time, to be enough conflicting evidence in period documents to negate the hypothesis that the presence of a coal grate rests solely on the ownership of a poker. For example, an extensive order for fireplace equipment placed by Wallace, Davidson & Johnson included 4 pairs of andirons, 2 pair to be “large” and “very elegant” and the other two to be “large” and “genteel.” The next line in the order is for “4 Pr of genteel tongs & Shovels suitable, tho' Strong with Pokers.”(18) Clearly, the implication is that the fire tools--tongs, shovels, and pokers--are to be suitable to the andirons. Conversely, the December 1779 inventory of Alexandria merchants' Hooe, Stone and Company's Counting House included an iron grate with a pair of tongs and shovel but no poker, and an invoice of goods sent to George Washington in the early 1760s included “1 Neat good steel Grate with fender to suit ditto & 1 Set Shovel & tongs.”(19)

Not strictly considered a “fire tool” in period parlance, for purposes of this study, bellows have been included in this subcategory since they, too, are used to help start and maintain fires. References to bellows appear in a variety of period documents. The Alexandria firm of William Hartshorne and Company advertised that among a large assortment of goods “lately imported” were “common and neat chamber bellows.”(20) It is unclear whether the term chamber bellows is truly meant to denote that the bellows are intended for use only in chambers or meant to convey size and degree of elaboration. This term does seem to be the most common adjective applied to bellows in account books and orders. John Glassford and Co., in their Piscataway store appear to have carried limited numbers of “chamber bellows.”(21) Among the items ordered by Charles Carroll, Barrister through his London agent in 1761 were “1 pair Light Chamber Bellows”(22)

Not surprisingly, fire tools and bellows occur in 98% of all REI having some form of fire- place equipment. Tongs appear most often, appearing in 98% of all inventories followed closely by shovels at 92%. Pokers and bellows are listed in far fewer inventories, occurring in slightly more than 1/3 of REI (38% and 36%, respectively.) The average and median numbers for specific forms in REI are:

Shovels- average 3; median 2
Tongs- average 4; median 4
Pokers- average 1.9; median 1
Bellows- average 1.5; median 1

It is probable that some of the fire tools listed are parts of matching pairs or sets; however, without specific designations or detailed descriptions, such combinations are difficult to determine. Sets or pairs that can confidently be postulated occur in only 16% of REI.

Fewer than 10% of listed examples of fire tools cite materials. Of those that do, slightly less than 45% cite brass tops, iron accounts for approximately 37% and there are two examples each listed for tools of queen's metal or of all brass.

All five (100%) of the family inventories contain either firetools or bellows. Interestingly, MASON63 lists only a pair of bellows. It seems probable that at least minimal firetools may have been overlooked, but without other evidence, such speculation does not figure into the family statistics. The other four family inventories include a variety of types of tools. ELBCK65 lists 3 sets of fire irons, but does not specify what forms constitute a set. Based on period practice, it seems safe to assume that Eilbeck's “sets” included at least shovels and tongs and may have included pokers as well. MASON86, MASON97, and MASON00 all specify tongs and shovels. Two (40%), MASON97 and MASON00, include what are clearly matched sets of tongs, shovel, and pokers. In addition, one set in MASON97 apparently matches a pair of brass topped andirons. Three of the five (60%) have bellows. Family averages and medians are:

Shovels: average 4; median 4
Tongs: average 4; median 4
Pokers: average 4.5; median--not available without ELBCK65
average 3.5; median 3 (with ELBCK65's assumed 3 sets)
Bellows: average 2.6; median 2

Only one of the family group, MASON97, includes material designations--listing two sets of tongs, shovels, and pokers with brass tops.

There is also a small amount of documentary evidence concerning George Mason's purchase of what surely were replacement fire tools recorded in his invoice from De Neufville & Son in 1780. Mason's order was for 2 chamber bellows, 2 pair chamber fire tongs and 2 chamber shovels.(23)


Fire Tool Sets: 1 (shovel, tongs, poker)
Origin: Britain, Chesapeake, America
Date: 1750-1780
Style: Determined by origin, date, and material
Material: Iron with brass tops

Fire Tool Sets: 2 (shovels and tongs)
Origin: Britain, Continent
Style: Determined by origin, date and material
Material: Iron??

Additional Fire Tools: 1 shovel & 1 pr tongs (probably for Kitchen use)
2 pair bellows
2 pokers
Origin: Shovel and Tongs: Britain, Chesapeake, America
Bellows: Britain
Pokers: Britain, Chesapeake, America
Date: 1750-1780
Style: Determined by origin, date, and materials
Materials: Shovels and tongs--iron
Bellows--leather, wood, metal



Fenders, like other fireplace equipment, could serve both functional and decorative functions. Intended to catch errant hot embers and to help visually mark the edge of the hearth, they often made dramatic decorative statements as well. Just how important such considerations might be is seen in two period examples of near disasters in rooms apparently not equipped with fenders. Col. James Gordon recorded in his dairy for February 15, 1759 that “Last night a coal of fire rolled on the dining-room floor & burned a great hole in the plank.”(24) An even closer call was experienced by Philip Fithian in January 1774. He wrote that:

After Dinner when I went over to my Room I was very much surprised to find my Room full of Smoke & Flame!--A kind Providence only prevented the total Loss of our School-House & all its furniture, & our own Clothes Books, &c!-- A Coal of fire had by accident (as the Hearth is very narrow) fall'n on the floor, it took fire, & when I entered it was burning rapidly--It had burnt three Boards about eight Inches from the Hearth, & most certainly in a short time would have been inextinguishable--. . . (25)

Fenders were often acquired as part of en suite fireplace equipage. William Reynolds, through his London agent John Norton, ordered “1 pr. Polished Steel end irons with shovel, Tongs & fender.”(26) In the same order quoted above placed by Wallace, Davidson & Johnson for James Hutchings, the matching andirons and firetools were also to be accompanied by 2 each “genteel” brass and polished iron fire fenders. Also included in the same order were “2 genteel Chamber brass fire fenders” to be sent to the sizes specified.(27)

There does not seem to be any one specific configuration of fireplace equipment associated with fenders. Although it has been suggested that fenders were used primarily in conjunction with grates, neither the documentary nor inventory evidence seems to support this supposition. Certainly the examples quoted above illustrate fenders intended to be used with andirons. Among the inventory references, there are examples of a range of usages. WSHGTN99, for example, includes 13 fenders, nine, including one in a kitchen fireplace, are associated with andirons, two, including one in the “new room,” which are known to have had a grates, and two are listed alone. There are other inventories, like AMBLER69, for example, where the association is explicit--listing a grate, shovel, tongs, poker, and fender.

Fenders occur in 34% of REI, averaging 3.4 among households having type (HHT), with a median of 3. Brass is the most commonly cited material, representing 43.5% of described examples, tin is second at 26%, followed by iron--13% and steel--8.7%.

Among the family inventories, two (40%) include fenders. ELBCK65 lists two examples of fenders associated with fireplace equipment and MASON00 includes two steel and one wire fender. While materials are clearly delineated in MASON00, one must infer that ELBCK65's fenders are brass based on the way the entries read, i.e., “1 iron Grate wth brass feet & an Iron c] fender.” The second set of equipment is only indicated with the abbreviation “do”.(28)


Fenders: 2
Origin: Britain
Date: 1750-1780
Style: Determined by date and material
Materials: 1 brass, 1 iron or steel



Grates and stove are both types of heating equipage which are somewhat difficult to tract through the inventory record. As potentially built-in features, there is much debate among modern scholars about whether they would have been included by inventory takers or would have been considered part of the architectural fabric of the house. In truth, there is probably no one answer. It may well have depended upon the form of the item and the personal inclination of the person making the inventory. The topic is further confused by somewhat fluid period usage of the terms stove and grate for items which were both built-in and free standing. Stove, for example could be applied to objects like “Bath stoves” which in modern usage would be considered a built-in grate; to Franklin stoves which were in effect cast iron firebox inserts; to free-standing six or ten plate stoves attached to the house only by the stove pipe which might feed into a chimney or pass through a window; and to small portable foot stoves which were small boxes meant to hold burning coals to warm a person's feet. Grates were sometimes as simple as built-in bars in a fire box or as elaborate as free-standing equipage which combined fire back, grate baskets, and andiron-type legs or supports. The possible confusion in relying upon period usage is illustrated by the fact that period trade catalogs sometimes refer to the later type “grate” as a “stove-grate.”(29)

Neither grates nor stoves appear in either the Rural Elite Inventories (REI) group or the family group in significant numbers. Grates occur in only 10% of REI and stoves in only 8%. Among the family inventories, only ELBCK65 has grates and only MASON97 includes a stove, listed as “one small stove.” None of the documentary evidence found among the surviving Mason orders includes any information about these forms.

Surviving physical evidence, does, however, raise the interesting possibility that George Mason installed a free standing six or ten plate stove in the land side portion of the elaborate center passage. Holes for a stove pipe occur above the center passage door to the first floor chamber and in the face of the overmantel in that chamber. These pipe holes correspond with marks in the passage floor to suggest a probable position for the stove. Philips and Buchanan postulated that ghost marks, together with signs of charring present on the floor to the south of the principal chamber, could be consequences of a support or platform for a stove in that location.(30)

There is no way to date this physical evidence, and it could well be argued that the addition of a stove was a change made to the house during its somewhat checkered 19th-century history. Counter to this argument is the intriguing idea that the stove reflects Mason's tenure in the house. Raising this possibility is a cast iron stove excavated in 1975 in the basement of Gunston Hall, which dates stylistically to the late 18th or early 19th century.

No recommendation is made at this time about the inclusion of a stove at Gunston Hall. Hopefully, future research can more closely date the excavated stove plate. It is also possible that a more complete archeological investigation of the basement will reveal additional parts of the stove. When these efforts have been accomplished, the question of a freestanding stove in the central passage at Gunston Hall should be revisited.



Warming Pans

Warming pans are included here as part of household equipage which helped to provide heat. With hot coals placed within the metal pan, the long handle allowed the pan to be run between cold, damp sheets before one crawled into bed. In often unheated bed chambers, such preparations would have undoubtedly been a welcome luxury. That such items were not universally known is made clear by a passage in the journal of Scotsman John Harrower, who while traveling in England recorded that he “paid 3 for my bedd, and it was warmed with a warming pan, this being the first time I ever seed it done.”(31) Among the braizery items recorded in the Wallace, Davidson & Johnson Order book were “6 brass warming pans with handles” valued at 1 each.”(32) Such items could, of course, be purchased by individuals through their agents abroad. Thomas Jones of Northumberland County, Virginia, in April of 1763, included “1 best large Brass warming Pann” among the items sent for.(33)

Warming pans occur in 70% of REI, with an average of 1.2 and a median of 1. When materials are cited, brass accounts for 87.5% of the examples.

Among the family inventories, four (80%) include this form. Only MASON00 does not have a warming pan. Both the family average and median is 1.5. Only ELBCK65 cites material, which is brass.


Warming Pan: 1-2
Origin: Britain
Date: 1750-1780
Style: Determined by date
Material: Brass

decorative element

1. Philip Vickers Fithian, Journal and Letters of Philip Vickers Fithian, ed., Hunter Dickinson Farish, (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1968), 120.

2. Fithian, 60-61.

3. Landon Carter, The Diary of Colonel Landon Carter, ed., Jack P. Greene, 2 vol. (Richmond: The Virginia Historical Society, 1987), 1:381; 6 January 1780, Letterbook, William Reynolds Papers, 1771-1776, MssD, Library of Congress. (hereafter LC)

4. See for example, Advertisement of Henry Ward, Maryland Gazette, 11 March 1762.

5. Advertisement of John Murray and Company, Virginia Journal & Alexandria Advertiser, 18 November, 1784.

6. See for example Advertisement of William Hartshorne and Company, Va. J. & Alex. Advert., 19 August 1784; To Robert Cary . . . London . . . , 28 September 1760, Series 5, Accounts and Financial Records of Mt. Vernon, Financial Papers 1750-96, George Washington Papers, MssD, LC, [57].

7. "A List of Goods . . . for Accot of James Hutchings,” Wallace, Davidson & Johnson Order Book, 1771-1774, Chancery Exhibits 1773-1776, MSA no. 528-27, Maryland State Archives, undated loose sheet inserted at the end of the book.

8. James Woodforde, A Country Parson, James Woodforde's Diary 1759-1802, Illustrated (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 171, 173.

9. Advertisement of Williams & Neth, Md. Gaz., 4 December 1783.

10. Invoice C4C, 25 October 1771, Charles Carroll Letter-Book 1771-1833, Arents Tobacco Collection, S0767, Rare Book Collection, New York Public Library, (microfilm at Maryland Historical Society).

11. Order-Iron Ware 25 Mar 1772, Wallace, Davidson & Johnson, 99.

12. Advertisement of Williams & Neth, Md. Gaz., 4 December 1783.

13. Advertisement of M. Perrin, Md. Gaz., 3 July 1783.

14. Order-Ironmongery, 2 April 1773, Wallace, Davidson & Johnson, 141.

15. See also for example, “Bot of Jukes Coulson Co. London, 20 December 1771, Folder 1771, Vol. 70, Galloway-Maxey-Markoe Family Papers, 1780-1789, MssD, LC.; Piscataway Maryland Ledger, Inventory 1769-1774, Container 36, John Glassford and Company Records, 1753-1844, MssD, LC, no. 86.

16. Invoice of Goods ship'd on board the Jenny, Container 36, Glassford, no. 21v.

17. Ronald L. Hurst, curator of furniture at Colonial Williamsburg, telephone discussion with Ellen K. Donald, 28 August 1998.

18. Order-Iron Ware [1771], Wallace, Davidson & Johnson, 22, 23.

19. Inventory, December 1779, Hooe, Stone and Co. Invoice Book, 1770-Jan, 1784, Rare Book Collection, New York Public Library, (microfilm no. 3005, Alderman Library, University of Virginia), trans p. 23; Invoice of Alexr. Shrimpton, [1760/61?], Series 5, George Washington Papers.

20. Advertisement of William Hartshorne and Company, Va. J. & Alex. Advert., 19 August 1784.

21. Inventory of Goods, Jan. 1770, Piscataway Store, Inventory 1769-1774, Container 32, Glassford, no. 41v, 64v, 90, 101v.

22. Invoice of goods sent to Mr. William Anderson, 29 October 1766, “Letters of Charles Carroll, Barrister” Maryland Historical Magazine, 36 (Sept. 1941): 338.

23. From John De Neufville & Son, [between 22 July-28 August 1780], Robert Rutland, ed., The Papers of George Mason, 1725-1792, 3 vol. (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1970), 2:665.

24. 15 February 1759, “Journal of Col. James Gordon,” William and Mary Quarterly, 9 (1903): 101.

25. Fithian, 60.

26. 10 August 1772, Letterbook, William Reynolds Papers.

27. For Accot. James Hutchings, Wallace, Davidson & Johnson, undated insert at end of the book.

28. William Eilbeck, Probate Inventory, 1 May 1766, Register of Wills (Inventories), 1753-1766, Charles County, Md., fol. 452, (microfilm at Maryland State Archives).

29. See, Christopher Gilbert & Anthony Wells-Cole, The Fashionable Fireplace, (Leeds, UK: Leeds City Art Galleries, 1985), 51-60.

30. For a further discussion of the architectural findings in the Passage and the Chamber, see Volume 1- Chapter Two, “Clues to George Mason Architecture, Documents and Objects,” in the Gunston Hall Room Use Study.

31. John Harrower, The Journal of John Harrower: an Indentured Servant in the Colony of Virginia, 1773-1776, ed., Edward Miles Riley, (Williamsburg: Colonial Williamsburg, Incorporated, 1963), 12.

32. Order-Braziery, [1771], Wallace, Davidson & Johnson, 9.

33. Merchandize sent for from Messrs. Farrell and Jones, 25 April, 1763, Container 12, Papers of the Jones Family, Northumberland County, Virginia, 1749-1810, Roger Jones Family Papers, 1649-1896, MssD., LC, item no. 2289.

© Gunston Hall Plantation 2002